Streaming video can be used for live or recorded events. The main reason for broadcasting live is to reach a wider and/or more dispersed audience. Typical live broadcasts could be lectures, sports or entertainment events, and academic or other ceremonies. For a major academic lecture given at a university the number of people who could actually attend would be limited by the size of the lecture theatre, where as the potential audience could be anywhere in the world. Live video is essential if the aim is to give a remote audience an experience as close as possible to being physically present at the event.

If an event is broadcast live it is relatively simple to make a recording which can then be published on the Web for later viewing. However, there are many more possibilities with non-live broadcasts. A streamed broadcast should be considered to be a multimedia event, which could include full motion video if appropriate.

With streaming video or streaming media, a Web user does not have to wait to download a file to play it. Instead, the media is sent in a continuous stream of data and is played as it arrives. The user needs a player, which is a special program that uncompresses and sends video data to the display and audio data to speakers. A player can be either an integral part of a browser or downloaded from the software maker’s Web site.